Public education is the mechanism that has made good on our nation’s earlier promises of liberty, prosperity and opportunity for all. According to Jamie Robert Vollmer’s “The Ever Increasing Burden on America’s Public Schools,” art, music, speech and drama were added to public school education in the 1940s.
Being a public school fine arts teacher (creative writing, dance, music, theatre and visual art) in the most challenging public schools in America in the 21st century can be an eerily thankless job, although it shouldn’t be.
The last eight years, I worked tirelessly as an award-winning K-8 theatre teacher advocating for arts education. The last three years, I managed securing over $25,000 in arts grants annually for at-risk youth in one of the most challenging Title I schools in Charleston County.
Working at a high poverty (99.2 percent), inner city school, that is academically below average or failing, changes your pie-in-the-sky views when being forced to deal with emotional/social challenges, acute and chronic stressors, cognitive lags, and health and safety issues in young people. Combined, these factors present an astonishing challenge to academic and social success.
Dramatic changes are transforming our society, and our schools are becoming dangerously out of sync by not providing all students with a quality comprehensive arts education.
School districts that decrease or relocate fine arts teachers who connect and reach kids from high poverty backgrounds in a less than transparent way to correct a culture of haplessly bloated and indifferently weak management is bad business, highly proscriptive and terribly misguided, and it segregates learning.
Marginalizing arts education and (the work we do) at our most vulnerable schools is utterly short sighted, embraces a fixed mindset, decreases meaningful learning opportunities and only perpetuates the academic and social cycle of despair.
Charles Atkins III